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The Blogging Author

Story Behind Two Books

African Woman Working Shea Butter
In planning the African American Healer's Medicine Kit, (see events page) I have also revisited the activities that sparked that workshop. First of all, the name is almost directly derived from the title of an "Herb Quarterly" article I wrote back in 2003. In the "African American Winter Medicine Kit," I not only discussed what herbs from the African diaspora are useful for healing winter ills, I also went into the historical backdrop within our culture from which those particular remedies stem.

That was 2003, when I had only published "Sticks,Stones, Roots and Bones." Now with 5 books in publication, exploring various aspects of African American healing practices, I asked myself which of those books most directly influenced the development of that workshop. I wanted to know this, so I could discern which of the books would be most useful to the various concerns of those in attendance.

I had two books on healing published between 2009 and 2010--"The Big Book of Soul," and "A Healing Grove." It is those two books that most inspired the content of the workshop. Since their release is so close together and they both center around African American healing you might be wondering what's the difference? I too have been thinking that over, as I plan the workshop experience.

"The Big Book of Soul," is more of a conceptual exploration of African American healing. It takes American Hoodoo as a point of departure. Then it gets into the ways healing and spirituality are fused in the Motherland. Yes, there are recipes and rituals but at its crux is the philosophy behind our healing practices. Yoruba traditions and the concept of ashe, are of particular interest.

"A Healing Grove," goes into the forest to explore various conceptual spaces regarding holistic approaches to healing in the African diaspora. This book's focus is around trees and the medicines they lend to the mind, body and spirit. "A Healing Grove" is more of a practical book, filled with a ton of botanical information on trees and the herbal knowledge needed to utilize them. It also includes ceremonies, rituals and recipes but then goes further, to include how trees are utilized in the arts and crafts of the diaspora.

As the workshop quickly approaches, I am considering the best ways to meld the information presented in each book. I know from the past that workshop attendees don't like to be overloaded with information dispensed in written form or verbally. In short, we must put theory, history and herbalism into practice.

This should be an interesting experience for the attendees, and for me. Time will tell how we work with theory and practice, regarding African American herbalism and our unique approaches to healing.  Read More 
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My Journey Towards Fiction

Transitioning from writing nonfiction to being a novelist is probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. With nonfiction I think so structurally. I use a proposal as a point of departure, a detailed outline for chapter development and then do copious research. Then I integrate personal vignettes and stories into the more objective text. This process goes on for months, sometimes even years but eventually I end up with a book. I have published 5 adult nonfiction books over the past decade.

With fiction, I am in unknown territory. As a child I was drawn to academics, hence my predilection for nonfiction. My creative writing always consisted of poetry and sometimes prose. Making up stories seemed the domain of others.

As I mentioned, my nonfiction books are for adults, so how did I come to be writing Young Adult fiction? I can’t really explain it. They say your characters and story will speak to you, and as strange as it sounds that is exactly what happened for me. Moreover, most of our vivid memories and life-shaping events happen during youth. Numerous story seeds are planted early in life, which has led me to make my main characters teenagers.

If we leave enough quiet space in our lives, characters and stories will come to us-- within all of us there is a deep story. Like many novelists, my first work of fiction, "No Barren Life" (Lodestone Books, 2015) has elements and motifs drawn from my life. When I embarked on this journey towards fiction I pulled directly from my unpublished memoirs. Quickly though, I found that material wasn't enough to create a novel. A novel needs characters, plot, a story arc, and a setting that brings your words to life. While memoir and fiction can have a brief relationship, marriage is not in the offing.

I read novels by others as I write being careful not to read something too directly related to my story. I want my novels to have their own merits and a unique voice. So far, I am able to accomplish that goal by understanding and admiring the story structure, plot, and storytelling of others, while at the same time focusing on my inner story, muse and the voice that speaks to me—that of my protagonist.

With my nonfiction I can pretty much predict the estimated time of delivery. The birth of fiction, at least for me, is completely unpredictable. As hard as it is to believe, "No Barren Life," began back in 2003, when I first started to develop the story. It has had spurts of my attention but not a real intense focus until 2011. By late 2013, I started circulating it, querying agents and publishers. Thinking it might languish in my files forever, I started a new novel in December 2013. It is about a third of the way along. I hope its completion time will be within a year.

The journey towards fiction is a bumpy and unpredictable one for someone that has devoted their writing previously to nonfiction. With its many twists and turns, it is however a ride on the wild side. I am enjoying the journey. Read More 
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